Can Cheeto Fried Chicken Redeem Stoner Food?

Food for stoners just hasn't been able to get much respect. But with today's release of The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook by mainstream publisher Chronicle Books, could that change?

In the past few years, medical marijuana dispensaries in states like California and Colorado have both fed and created a market not just for boutique strains of weed, but also for high-end pot edibles like stroopwafels loaded with THC. There’s even a fancy cannabis caterer in the San Francisco Bay Area who puts pot in his demi-glace for dinner parties that get all the guests (patients with valid pot cards) baked.

Still, in mainstream circles, haute stoner food inhabits the pothead realms of Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar. Despite earlier attempts to report seriously on modern chefs’ weed culture (Kim Severson, a former food writer for the New York Times who's now their Atlanta bureau chief, took a bit of heat after exploring the subject in 2010), marijuana food is still associated mostly with munchies like Doritos, not fine cooking.

The cover of the High Times cookbook promises “more than 50 irresistible recipes that will get you high." Are Psychedelic Spanakopita and Tom Yum Ganja irresistible? They'll surely get you high, since all of the recipes contain psychoactive ingredients, either actual weed or infused fats. Many of the photos show dishes styled with a variety of smoking devices, just to underscore the fact that this is food that'll knock you on your ass.

But to see if a recipe stands up when you’re not high, we made one: Cheeto Fried Chicken, which is soaked in buttermilk seasoned with chili powder, and rolled in crushed cheese puffs. It’s attributed to New York chef Eddie Huang, a CHOW 13 honoree and famous stoner. Only difference here: We used plain grapeseed oil for the bud-infused oil Huang calls for. (Come on—we had to get some work done after lunch.)

You can find the recipe on page 87 of the High Times Cannabis Cookbook and see for yourself, but here are a few of my observations.

Hokay, first of all, calling for an "at least" five-hour marinating time for the chicken comes perilously close to the fancy-chef cookbooks where all the recipes begin with a list of things to do on "day one." Second, cutting and pounding five pounds of chicken breasts with the mallet I don't own (I used a cast iron frying pan) was no joke. Thankfully my reflexes were not dulled by a couple of bong rips or I most assuredly would have pounded a finger.

Everything else was pretty standard for fried chicken (a dish that's one of the few ways you can really hurt yourself in the kitchen).

Pounding the Cheetos into crumbs, as the recipe calls for, was miserable. Unlike a drier food (graham crackers, say), Cheetos are oily so they resist crunching and instead want to compact into a greasy mat. Maybe Huang has better upper-arm strength than me, but I can't imagine doing this for any group of friends I would want to invite over.

Monitoring the fryer—or, in my case, a Dutch oven filled with oil and a candy thermometer on the side—was also on the not-fun side. Cycling through all the chicken took a good 45 minutes. (A pot buzz would totally have made the time pass.) Oh well.

The end result was appealingly brown and craggy. I took a bite. Salty salty salty salty! The chicken inside the coating was moist and snappy with a hint of heat, but the Cheeto coating was just way too salty-greasy.

In short, If you think the High Times Cannabis Cookbook will end up making anyone take stoner food seriously, then dude: You must be high.

Image sources: Top, Flickr member bunchofpants under Creative Commons; fried chicken photo by Joyce Slaton

Former CHOW contributor Joyce Slaton is an editor and writer in San Francisco. She takes her tea with sugar and milk and will sew you an apron if you ask nicely. Follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.